Luxembourg, Belgium, Spain, US / 2013
As Hurricane Matthew surges forward and brings with it the grim reminder that October might as well be Summer Part II for residents along the East Coast, I find myself wanting to tap into that chilly root of autumnal bliss and despair that never taints the incessant greenery of my peninsula, and once that hunger takes hold of me, I can always depend on the works of Edgar Allan Poe to appease it.
EXTRAORDINARY TALES is the passion project of Raul Garcia, a former animator for Disney, and the filmmaker’s admiration is evident in many of the pieces gathered herein. Each segment based on one of Poe’s “grotesque” tales—you’ll find no gold bugs or purloined letters here—utilizes the distinct styles of the various artists who proved influential to Garcia, from the comic book illustrations of Alberto Breccia (“The Tell-Tale Heart,” actually a one-off short from 2005) to the woodcut-styled animation of Jiří Trnka (“The Fall of the House of Usher”). This approach further enhances the dictum that rules all anthologies: you’ll like some stories better than others. On the whole, I don’t think Poe’s words pair naturally with computer animation, at least not of the kind seen here, particularly the blocky, video game aesthetic from the “Usher” vignette. (Though, as can be seen from the above screenshot, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it cannot produce beautiful visuals at times, though I think my attraction to that particular shot partly stems from the fact that it looks like a traditional two-dimensional painting.) Most of the other episodes fare similarly; their efforts are valiant, but something inevitably feels lost in the translation.
Thankfully we have a host of fine thespians lending their vocal talents to the telling of these tales. Christopher Lee leaves an impressive mark with “Usher” in his final cinematic offering, Bela Lugosi’s archived recording of “Tell-Tale Heart” gives the eerie chiaroscuro images the air of a crossed transmission from a shadowy plane, and Julian Sands delivers a respectable, if a bit dry, rendition of “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” The film’s fifth adaptation, “The Masque of the Red Death,” remains silent besides incidental music, sound effects, and a fleeting auditory cameo by Roger Corman as Prince Prospero. But Garcia’s secret weapon comes in the form of Guillermo del Toro, beloved director of the fantastique who with his narration of “The Pit and the Pendulum” proves himself as a natural-born orator. His crackling, rumbly cadence is an absolute joy to hear, and in listening to him we know that he intimately believes in the truth and strength of Poe’s works. His contribution surpasses narration and becomes sermon. Were the film to have been mute save for only his voice, it would undoubtedly have become an immediate classic.